Unfortunately, MSH President and CEO Jonathan Quick wasn’t able to attend the Forum and join this morning’s plenary roundtable. Still, the session highlighted the need to deploy and support the right personnel to make care affordable in low-income settings. The panel featured PAHO Director Carissa Etienne, describing a vision for health workforce management in which every health system would strengthen first at the community provider level—selecting health workers from the community, trained to deliver the basic services needed there, with support and accountability coordinated by the government.
This frontlines-focused approach has been a theme of the conference from MSH and partners like the Frontline Health Workers Coalition and One Million Community Health Workers. In the context of massive health workforce shortages (7.2 million worldwide, as estimated by a WHO report launched yesterday) and poor distribution to rural areas, we’ve argued that health systems should build around community health workers (CHWs). While these workers already operate in many settings, their role is often seen as ancillary to that of doctors, nurses and health facilities. The disadvantages of this ad hoc approach include fragmentation and duplication of programs, discussed in a side session Saturday, and inadequate management and support, as MSH’s Mary O’Neil noted on another panel today.
To enable progress towards universal health coverage–a theme of the Forum–CHWs can no longer be seen as a stopgap measure for healthcare access. They should be formally integrated into health systems as providers of potentially life-saving primary care.